The entrance of Winter Wonderland, London
Americans especially take rollercoasters for granted. As a kid growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I remember the Wildcat and the Zingo at Bell’s Amusement Park. The Wildcat was real famous as this rickety old thing that had a penchant for riding right off the rails and sailing across the park. I don’t think that was really part of the ride’s original design, but it certainly worked like that.
Then I progressed to the real capital amusement parks: Six Flags Over Texas and later Six Flags Over Denver. Six Flags had those classy rides, the Texas Giant and the Texas Titan (video below), which were both at various times the world’s largest rollercoasters.
Point being, it never occurred to me that some people had never even seen a rollercoaster, and on top of that, many countries in the world don’t even have a rollercoaster. The only exposure to such frivolous fun was on TV shows about America, like Dallas or Dynasty, where there would be one or two episodes where someone got killed by a flying rollercoaster.
Georgia, where I have lived and where my wife is from, is one such country bereft of amusement. All they have is these weird little Soviet-esque children’s carnivals, where they blare out Russian children’s pop on the 9 on the dial until the parent’s turn to a sludgy mess of psychology and the children eat spoiled cotton candy and ride on some lame merry-go-round for the one-thousandth time. It’s more of a sad Biblical allusion to perils of unbridled amusement than the real thing.
So when I got married to a Georgian, I had to check my white American freedom eagle stallion privilege and understand where my wife was coming from. A land of no rollercoasters. Whenever one was mentioned, her eyes would gloss over and imagine how amazing they are, and I would continually be bowled over by how she missed out on this one defining event of her childhood. It emerged on my list of things we had to do.
I had to find her a rollercoaster to ride.
When we were in London, we lucked out.
Every winter, they have a massive carnival, called the Winter Wonderland, filling up half of Hyde Park. Since England is on the southern point of an island, it tends to avoid the harsher winters that the Continent gets, in exchange for something far more mild. This means that rollercoasters and high speed bullet spinny thingies are not out of the question in winter.
When I showed my wife some photos, she was immediately smitten and it became a must-see thing for our London trip.
A giant tribute to German Christmas markets
We got to the entrance and saw masses and masses of people. Most people out seemed to be Middle Easterners, as I guess most English folk might take the whole rollercoaster thing for granted themselves (“why would I go ou’ in tha' wee cold for wha’?” they might say, or rather something similar, as for some reason a Scottish accent was bleeding through in my head when I wrote that). That fact above seemed a bit funny to me, since it was a fairly Christmas themed park and alcohol had certainly an overt presence upon it. But it also goes to show that most people really aren’t as easily offended as American media would like us to believe and just want to have a bit of fun in the cold winter. Probably if I were in Istanbul and had the opportunity to go to a Ramadan themed park I'd go. Or I wouldn't because there wouldn't be any food or drink there...
I say “alcohol had an overt presence” because it did. There was a bar that was serving up the mulled wine and proper stouts situated on a carousel as well as a ride that takes you up 100 meters into the air and drops you, with the name of “the Hangover”. The place wasn’t just for adults though, as there were plenty of kiddy related things to do, and even weirdly a haunted house that had nothing to do with Christmas or winter.
The Hangover and the drink-a-go-round
The crown of the festival was a huge rollercoaster with no less than four loops. We would not start my wife’s rollercoaster adventures on some pansy train. Go bust or go home, my friends.
The weird haunted house
The Munchen Loopen
The rollercoaster was the same they use in Oktoberfest in Munich. The presence of rollercoasters and rides of such veracity at a beer festival was always mind boggling to me, but there didn’t seem to be too much vomit flying about as one might imagine.
The Munchen Loopen
I’m not sure where else this rollercoaster travels, but it at least made it to Winter Wonderland.
We went on it.
And the smile on my wife’s face throughout was reward enough and perhaps made the whole London trip worthwhile. There was one part of that taken-for-granted childhood I was able to dish out and serve, and the dessert was good eats, my facetious friends.
Winter Wonderland starts every November and wraps up at the beginning of January (though closed on Christmas Day, just like the entire London metro system). Most rides cost from 6 to 8 pounds sterling and the festival is otherwise free to enter. It includes not just rides, games, and drinks, but also events like the Nutcracker on Ice and crazy circus acrobatics.